Humane Animal Partners, an animal shelter that has been serving Delaware for 150 years, is embracing a newish concept among shelters nationwide: pet retention.
Instead of admitting every animal in need to the shelter, the nonprofit works with people to help them keep their animals in their homes.
Sometimes, that involves resources, such as a food pantry, veterinarian care and funding for expenses. Sometimes, it involves conversations.
“It could just be advice relating to their pet’s behavior,” said Patrick Carroll, CEO of the nonprofit, established with the 2022 merger of the Delaware SPCA (founded in 1873) and the Delaware Humane Association (founded in 1957).
“We’re mirroring human social services, with a goal of keeping them in the home,” he said in an interview, following a recent speech before the Wilmington Rotary about the merger and the concept.
The nonprofit also uses a slogan: “happier together.”
“Obviously, we will still take animals into adoption” if that’s the last resort, he said.
Faithful Friends founder Jane Pierantozzi said the animal shelter, now based near New Castle, has followed the retention philosophy since its 2000 founding. Its Pet Lifeline – counselors, behavioral advice and other support – offered valuable services when it didn’t have a lot of shelter space.
Pet retention is “modeled after social services and is a better choice than a more expensive and stressful intervention,” she said. “Shelters are necessary, but they’re a place of last resort.”
Faithful Friends has begun other programs to help people and their animals stay together.
It’s partnered with the New Castle County Hope Center for multiple services to help clients with their pet care, and it’s set up banks of pet food and pet care in low-income areas, where pets are more at risk of abandonment.
“All pets deserve a loving home, but some already have them,” she said.
“Nationally, animal welfare has just picked up on this social service concept, in the last few years actually, of working to help people who love their pets keep them by offering a range of support services,” she said. “Delaware has been ahead in this movement because of our leadership.”
Carroll said all of Delaware’s animal shelters are considered “no-kill,” which means that 90% of the animals that they take in are released alive, to adopting families, to foster homes or into “fospice,” which is foster and hospice care for animals at the ends of their lives.
Humane Animal Partners is on track to log 2,200 adoptions this year, a decline from the past. Adoptions of large dogs are down, he noted, suggesting that people are leery of their cost of care and the hard work that could be involved in handling behavior issues.
It is not efficiently tracking statistics on pet retention, he said, adding that’s a goal for 2024.
Carroll said he wants to “get more involved in housing issues that are barriers to pet ownership,” such as laws on limits on pets by landlords.
New laws about pets
Delaware this year adopted several laws relating to pets, the first three effective in June.
“For many people, you can’t put a price tag on that favorite dog or cat that you have a special relationship with,” Krista Griffith, the New Castle County representative who sponsored the first three laws, told WHYY.
• One law “requires Family Court to award possession and provide for the care of companion animals when dividing marital property after considering the well-being of the companion animal.”
• A second law adds several acts against a companion animal or service animal to the definition of abuse for protection from abuse proceedings. They include “engaging in cruelty, inflicting physical injury and engaging in a course of alarming or distressing conduct.” The law also lets the court “include provisions in a protection from abuse order that grant a petitioner exclusive care, custody, or control of a companion animal and order a petitioner to stay away from the companion animal.”
• A third law “requires law-enforcement agencies, the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families and the Department of Justice to report suspected animal cruelty to the Office of Animal Welfare that is discovered while performing their responsibilities in child welfare cases.” The law also provides “immunity to people who in good faith report suspected animal cruelty.”
• The law on animal shelters, updated in August, sets new standards on feeding, access to water, sanitation, disease control and infrastructure for where sheltered pets are housed. “The law also outlines the minimum level of care required to protect mental and physical health, including requiring shelters to have a protocol for behavioral enrichment, updated annually,” Delaware Public Media reported.
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